“Sorry” seems to be the hardest word

steve_goreIn New Zealand and, I’m guessing, the rest of the world, we are taught to apologise when we have done something wrong.  Sincere apology can be a great healer for yourself and repairer of relationships.  However, sometimes finding sincerity can be difficult, especially if you feel like you haven’t done anything wrong, or that the person you are expected to apologise to doesn’t deserve it or should apologise to you first.

There is a way through this that can also make our apologies more effective, enduring and powerful.

If two kids are fighting and a parent says, “apologise for hitting your sister/brother!” the words being asked for are, “I’m sorry I hit you.”  The focus of that style of apology is on the person giving the apology.  He or she might as well be saying the words to the wall and they would be as meaningful to the other.  That style of apology is about my actions and restoring myself as a worthy human being.

What about the other person?  Where are they in the apology?   In the words, “I’m sorry I hit you.”, the apology would be almost the same, if the ‘you’ wasn’t there.  The message the other might be receiving is, “I’m sorry for my actions but what happened to you is of no interest to me”.  When we ask our children to apologise in this way we are inadvertently asking them to think only about themselves, not the effect of their actions on others, and I think we can agree that teaching our children empathy and cause and effect is important.

A more effective way is to focus the apology on the other person, rather than yourself and your words or actions.  When this is the focus of apology, you don’t even have to express regret for your actions.  “I’m really sorry you were hurt during that fight we just had.   I wish that fight didn’t happen”, is an apology and statement of regret that is focused on the other person, and doesn’t even mention the action.  This apology is about appreciating and connecting with the other person’s experience of what happened and expressing regret that they had an unpleasant experience.  It’s about restoring them, not you.

This doesn’t give you a “get out of jail free” card.  While the focus of the apology might be on them, not you , it is helpful to take responsibility for your action.  Taking responsibility is different from taking blame.  Blame is something generally pointed at the other and can be broad or totalising (totalising is when we give someone an unescapable label that defines them  “You’ll never amount to anything”).  When you take responsibility for something you are simply stating what you did or said.  It is helpful to avoid justifying yourself, unless you are asked to.  If you said, “I said some things and called you some hurtful names that I regret”, you are taking responsibility, but if you justify that by adding, “But you started it when you called me…” it looks to the other like you are blaming them for your actions, which is unfair and, frankly, a bit pathetic.  You are basically saying you have no control over yourself and everything that you do is someone else’s fault…don’t be that person!

If the other person asked why you did something you are expressing regret for, you can use this as an opportunity to invite them into responsibility, while avoiding blaming them… “when I heard myself called X, a rush of anger came over me and I lashed out. ”  This is a bit different to saying, “when YOU called me X…”

I worked with a client recently on just this issue.  Something had happened where doing her job had caused a huge inconvenience for another worker.  My client felt she couldn’t apologise for what she had done with any sincerity as it was her job but when we discussed apologising for the inconvenience to her colleague she saw the possibilities that this may create.  She did just that and their relationship was quickly restored.  All the other person was looking for was acknowledgement that they had been hurt and that they mattered to the person who caused the hurt.

When couples fight apology is important to restore their relationship.  In a fight both are often left with the sense of being attacked and hurt and both are waiting for the other to heal that hurt.  An apology that only acknowledges the actions and not the hurt doesn’t do the job fully.  It doesn’t express caring for the other.  It can leave the recipient with the lingering notion that their partner will do the same thing again because they don’t care that they have hurt them.

I hope this has offered some helpful ideas.  Effective apology is difficult.  It is subtle, nuanced and requires careful languaging.  It is definitely something that you should delivered when tempers are cooled and you have time to think carefully about what  happened, how you were hurt, what you regret, what you want to take responsibility for and, therefore, what you want to say.

Ka kite ano



What’s post-structural and narrative?

steve_goreI heard once that there are over 60 different recognised “therapies” – theoretical ways in which counsellors work.  Narrative counselling, which I use, is one of those.   This post is my opinion on the broad differences in counselling and doesn’t pretend to be definitive.

Before I start I want to stipulate that all therapies are good and valid.  What makes them effective is that the therapist sees the world through the lens of that therapy and that both the therapy and the counsellor “fits” with the client – that the client can totally trust the person they are sharing their problems with and the work feels right to them.  Clients should be less interested in, “What therapy or technique is being used here?”, and more in, “Am I getting what I need?  Do I feel safe revealing my fears, regrets, self-doubts and shames with this person?”.  While counsellors will have a theoretical base, most counsellors dip in and out of various techniques, if they believe it will be helpful to their client, so many counsellors describe themselves as eclectic. or simply don’t describe themselves

There are three broad ways (paradigms) in which counsellors work.

The most widely applied is structuralist counselling.  It is based out of science so includes much of the work that most psychologists and psychiatrists do.   CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is probably the most well known of the structuralist therapies.  These therapies work on on the basis of scientific research and utilise diagnosis and the notion of “proven techniques”.   This work involves the labels we commonly know, such as depression, anxiety, and the labels given to those who experience things like schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and so forth.  They treat the human condition as reliable and replicable.  In other words, if you are experiencing anxiety, the symptoms are treatable for you in the same way they are treatable for every other person with anxiety.

The second group of therapies are known as romantic.  Please don’t conjure up notions of princesses and dragons.  It’s called that because it it is underpinned by the “romantic” view of a human as mystical and to be discovered.  Existential Counselling, Gestaltist Counselling and Person Centred Therapy are the best known therapies in this paradigm.  They focus on the client getting to know who they truly are – peeling away the layers to discover their essence.  Exploring their inner world.

My training is in narrative counselling, which is part of the post-structuralist paradigm.  Post structuralism is a way of viewing the word that allows for multiple truths (Which is great when work with couples fighting – to know that they are both right stops me becoming a mediator!), and is strongly focused on relationships…including relationships with problems.  The easiest way to explain this is to appreciate that you can’t be shy on sitting on a beach.  Shyness is a feature of your relationships with …maybe everyone!  I work with clients to view their problems as not “of them”, but “with them”.  If you have depression, things can feel pretty stuck, but if we view depression as an unwelcome  visitor to your life, you can begin to form a relationship with depression that might allow you various measures of control over its visits.

Post-structuralism utilises social stories – the unwritten rules.  How you can be, or speak as a woman, man, father, employee, and how these rules might sit in conflict with your preferred ways of being.  This is a way of working that can allow people to understand why they experience problems, how they are drawn to react in certain situations and can help them make radical changes in their lives and step away from ideas that have held them back.  For more on this follow this link.

Ka kite ano


The gift of delight

steve_goreI’m curious, when I talk to couples about their relationship, about how they part and how they come together.  My question is usually, “At the end of the day, what comes through the door?” and, “What do you walk into?” With couples whose relationship is going through some turmoil or a slump the answer is often, “sullenness”, “silence”, “eggshells”, “tentativeness”, “hostility” or something along those lines.  

This initial coming together often sets the tone for the whole evening.  If that split second is set by the echoes of an argument of days before, or by stresses of work, or by a day of dirty naps and screaming kids, it sends a message to the other of isolation and disinterest.  

In every intimate relationship an enduring question each is constantly asking is, “Are you here for me?”, and the parting moment and coming together are moments that question comes to the fore.  If you walk into distractedness, the fleeting thought might be, “I don’t matter – her/his mind is elsewhere.”

What would it be like if your parting was a kiss and hug of genuine affection instead of a quick peck that tells your partner that your mind is already out the door and in the office?  What would it be like if “delight” came through the door, or you walked into “delight”?  How might that set a different tone tone for the evening and change the mood of the whole house. Our delight is a gift to our partner (or children, friends, family or colleagues).  Instead of not mattering they become the most important thing in the world to you for that brief moment.  

Every dog owner has had the experience of coming home to wild delight at their arrival.  It’s one of the reasons dog owners love their pets so much…that daily gift of being loved and wanted that their dog gives them, and that moment of coming together is where it gets most strongly expressed.

You could be in the midst of a drawn out argument and still be delighted to see the other.  You can be incredibly hurt by your partner and still be delighted to see them. You could have had the worst day you can remember and still be delighted to see them.  It is only a matter of pausing to remind yourself that you are coming together and wanting to give them the gift of your delight.

ka kite ano

Steve Gore


If you are ready to tackle your problems call 578 0959 for an appointment

“Either/or”…what else?

steve_goreAs a society we find it very easy to slip into what is known as totalising. We take one story or aspect of a person and use it to define them, and use that aspect to totally explain the person.  If we know someone is an addict, we might make conclusions about how trustworthy they are, maybe we might consider them a “failure” by social standards, and we ascribe behaviours to that thing…”They are late because they are an addict.”, “They lost their job because they are an addict.”  This is a very common way of making sense our world and since this way is supported, it is somewhat accepted.  It is also quite unhelpful.

Many of the people I work with have experienced abuse from someone they love, a parent or a partner.  When society learns that a father sexually abused his child, we kick into totalising and binary thinking and struggle to believe anything good about the man.  This can be incredibly difficult for the child, even into adulthood.  Totalising creates one story that urges them to hate this person who they love dearly, and tells them they should overlook  all the good memories of holidays, gifts, support and love.

If they reveal the abuse they will be required to hate this person they love.  If they don’t then there is something really broken about them.  This either/or approach to how we think about abusers can silence people in abusive relationships.  While it is tempting to get stuck on the idea that people don’t reveal abuse because of shame and fear, it can often be more complicated than that.  They may be keeping silent out of love and confusion.

I’ve found it helpful to step away from those “either/or” statements and explore “both/and”.  We don’t overlook, minimise, forgive or accept the abuse but we also explore the good qualities of the person and honour those.  “He was both a loving boyfriend and a violent drunk.”, “She was both a fantastic mother and an abusive binge drinker.”

Let’s be clear, this is not about justifying, explaining or minimising the abusive behaviour – this approach is about the victim of the abuse being allowed to both love and hate a person, so being allowed the freedom to truly own their experience, without the judgement of society telling how they should feel.

Ka kite ano

Let’s go!

steve_goreI’m really excited about getting this website up and running.  It’s been sitting dormant for a long time, while my focus has been on other things.  I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts and experience and the things I have learned from my journey in counselling in the hope that there might be ideas that you find helpful in your own journey through life.  So if you have stumbled across my site for the first time I’m really please to be met by you and hope that one day I can meet you too.

Ka kite ano